“This is to keep Big Brother out of my exam room,” says Philip A. Denney, MD, explaining the civil suit that attorney Zenia Gilg filed on his behalf Aug. 3 in the U.S. District Court for Eastern California. Denney had been sent documents by a sympathizer revealing that in the Fall of 2005, two individuals -an agent of the Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms Bureau, and an informer controlled by the Redding Police Department- had obtained his approval to medicate with cannabis by providing false histories. The documents also made reference to a “DEA case number,” apparently from another investigation of his practice.
“Doctors have to trust their patients when taking a history,” says Denney. “Violating that trust has a chilling effect on my ability to practice ethical and thorough medicine.” Denney’s suit claims that he was a target of “an investigation involving the DEA acting under Administrator Karen Tandy, ATF acting under director Carl J. Truscott, Shasta County District Attorney Gerald Benito, the Shasta County Sheriff’s Department and Sheriff James Pope, the Redding Police Department and Police Chief Leonard Moty,” all of whom are named as defendants. Denney says that the protections afforded doctors by the First Amendment and upheld by a federal-court injunction in the Conant v. Walters case have been ignored by the agencies named in the suit.
Earlier this year, when Denney first learned about and protested being lied to by law-enforcement agents, Police Chief Moty and DA Benito contended that it was incidental to their investigation of a local dispensary, Dixon Herbs. As reported in the Redding Record-Searchlight: “The purpose of visiting Denney’s office, Redding police Chief Leonard Moty said, was to obtain signed statements from a physician that could then be used to purchase pot at Dixon Herbs. ‘Many people use (the medicinal marijuana law) as a means to get around illegal use of marijuana,’ Moty said. The investigation into Dixon Herbs ‘demonstrates how easy it is (to get a recommendation). It speaks a little bit to the credibility of the examination.’
“Both Moty and District Attorney Jerry Benito said Denney was never the focus of the investigation. ‘Under the medicinal marijuana laws, we cannot touch the doctors in any way,’ Benito said… The aim of the investigation was to build a case against Dixon Herbs, Benito said. ‘If he feels like somehow he was used or exploited to get a recommendation, perhaps he should review his procedures.'”
Denney said at the time that whether or not he was their primary target, the visit to his office by law enforcement operatives left him feeling “violated and threatened.” He added, “The effect of Moty’s move against Dixon Herbs is that a thousand or so patients in the Redding area are forced onto the black market to buy their medicine. Is that really what the chief of police wants? Even if Dixon Herbs was not 100 percent up to snuff, it was far better than the alternative and deserved to be worked with. That’s what the law requires -safe and affordable access. The collusion between the state agencies and the feds is for no other purpose than to overturn the will of the voters.”
Denney has been licensed in California for almost 30 years and has never run afoul of the medical board. He has a cannabis-oriented practice with offices in Sacramento and Orange County, as well as Redding. “I’m confident I can convince a jury that my rights and my patients’ rights were violated, and that government agencies have been conspiring to block the implementation of the medical marijuana law since it was enacted. This goes back to 1996, to [former attorney general] Dan Lungren’s strategy of forcing doctors to appear in court and [former drug czar] Barry McCaffrey’s threat to revoke Tod Mikuriya’s license.” Denney hopes to learn through the discovery process details of the DEA investigation into his practice. The suit cites ITAL Planned Parenthood v. Casey END ITAL as a case in which “the U.S. Supreme Court recognized that physician speech is entitled to First Amendment protection.”
Vroman in the Gloamin’
Terence Hallinan of San Francisco was the only district attorney in California who supported Prop 215 when it was on the ballot in 1996. When Norm Vroman was elected DA from Mendocino, Hallinan was grateful to have an ally. He came back from a meeting of the DAs Association with glowing words of praise for the principled Libertarian from up North. Albion activist Pebbles Trippet also spoke admiringly of Vroman -and still does. Even David Moore and Mike Schneider of the MendoHealing collective, whom Vroman has charged with cultivation of cannabis for sale, think that the DA has been misinformed about the nature of their operation. They say that if only he knew how many poor people were beneficiaries… Everybody seems to think Norm Vroman is committed to full implementation of California’s medical marijuana law.
I don’t -not after listening to Vroman at a meeting of the Medical Marijuana Advisory Board in Fort Bragg July 28. I heard a man trying to pass off stubbornness for integrity and electoral pandering for a righteous worldview. “My philosophy,” Vroman said more than once, “is that if you’re from Mendocino County and you’re providing marijuana for people in Mendocino County, you won’t have a problem.” This elicited a knee-jerk cheer from some in attendance -New Settlers who now consider themselves Original Gangstas. They reminded me of anti-immigrant vigilantes in the Southwest who come on like native Americans. When did these gringos’ forbearers fall off the pickle boat? David Moore’s “crime” is that he moved to Fort Bragg in 2002 and provided high-quality marijuana to people in San Francisco at a low price. Mike Schneider’s “crime” is that he worked for MendoHealing. (He thought it was fulfilling the purpose of Prop 215. Schneider, an idealist, earned a fraction of what a grower with his skills could have made if his goals were commercial.)
People in San Francisco, especially the poor, don’t have the set-up or the training to grow high-resin cannabis. They don’t grow their own wine grapes or tomatoes, either. Vroman’s comments about letting people in other counties “fend for themselves” might evoke applause from some Mendoland chauvinists, but it’s disconnected from socioeconomic reality and mean-spirited. Vroman said that “people driving up the 101 corridor” to get marijuana have “created a lot of problems.” He didn’t specify what the problems have been. He doesn’t express contempt for people who drive up 101 to visit the wineries and drive home with a case of Merlot from Handley or Maple Creek. Are the wine people better drivers, or are the “problems” the result of law enforcement profiling and stopping the marijuana people?
Pebbles Trippet heard in Vroman’s comments an “openness” to re-examine the law created by SB-420 (which protects “Qualified patients… and the designated primary caregivers of qualified patients… who associate within California in order to collectively or cooperatively cultivate marijuana for medical purposes”). What I heard was a zealous prosecutor intent on taking down MendoHealing himself or seeing the case transferred to the U.S. attorney.
With the sole exception of Terence Hallinan, officials from every branch of government at every level -local, state, and federal- opposed Prop 215. The voters passed it by a 56-44 margin, rejecting a lifetime of War on Drugs propaganda. We were trying to tell the government something about marijuana -that it’s no BFD, it can even be good for you- based on our collective experience and understanding. Our important message has been ignored. The authorities who opposed Prop 215 in ’96 have succeeded in severely limiting its implementation and are actively trying to roll it back. They have the nerve to justify the rollback in the name of “what the voters envisioned.” They claim that the voters didn’t envision doctors approving marijuana for the treatment of depression and other “hardly terminal diseases.” They claim the voters didn’t envision distribution through Cannabis Buyers Clubs… How would they know why the people voted “Yes?” They all voted “No.”